Mac Mini vs. iMac

The Mac mini's price has crept into iMac territory. So how do they compare?

Apple Mac Mini 2018
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

iMac, Mac mini, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air, there are a lot of different Macs to choose from at Apple. We previously stacked the new MacBook Air against the MacBook Pro, but now it is time to turn attention to Apple’s desktop counterparts.

In this guide we now put up the specs on the newest refreshed Mac mini against the iMac. We would have never compared these two in the past, but thanks to the price jump on the new Mac mini, there’s now some overlap in configurations. Weighing in features like design, and performance, and our overall review of the new Mac Mini, we’ll help you decide which is right for your set up at work or home.

Design

Apple Mac Mini 2018
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Both the iMac and Mac mini are made of aluminum and are designed as desktops, but the form factor could not be more different between the two. At 2.9 pounds and 1.4 inches in thickness, the Mac mini is a thin slab of metal that is similar to a super compact cable box.

A highlight for us in our review, the Mac mini is very ideal for sitting under a monitor or at the side of a desk. It easily stays out of the way in places with limited space and the fans are quiet as a whisper. Great as that is, the sleek Space Gray aluminum design doesn’t account for monitors or keyboards, all of which need to be purchased separately.

The iMac contrasts to the Mac mini since is an all-in-one computing solution. The base iMac model ends up coming at 17.7 inches tall, and 20.8 inches in width, but a 27-inch model is also available. It also packs a 21.5-inch display with 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, whereas the Retina 4K model packs a display with 4,096 x 2,304 resolution. A separate 27-inch model also packs a Retina 5K display for 5,120 x 2,880 resolution. Apple even includes both a Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2 in the box, keeping you from separate purchases.

Some professionals might prefer the iMac for its display and all-in-one design, but the Mac mini remains a bit more enticing since it can be plugged into an existing setup.

Performance

apple imac retina 5k display 2017 hero4
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Apple revamped the Mac mini with new internals to make it a better buy against the yet to be updated iMacs. The base $800 Mac mini model ships with an 8th-gen Intel Core i3 quad-core processor clocked at 3.6 GHz. It also comes with 8GB of RAM and a 128 GB PCIe-based SSD onboard. The drive is super fast and hits a read speed of 2,753MB/s and a write speed of 1,238MB/s in our file transfer testing. That is double the speeds on similar SSDs in the other desktops which we have tested before, and much faster than the SATA drives on the iMac.

For more processing power, a Mac mini model with a six-core 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor clocked at 3.0GHz is also available for $1,100. This is the model we reviewed, and where the Mac mini crosses into iMac territory. It scored 5,236 in Geekbench 4 single-core testing, and then 20,432 in multi-core testing. Higher numbers are always better in this test which taxes the processor with real-world tasks. Compared to the 4,775 single core score, and the 14,017 multi-core scores on the iMac, the new 8th generation processors onboard the Mac mini clearly make it a powerful machine.

In all models of the Mac mini, up to 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB RAM can also be added, and there are options for configurations for 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB SSDs. There is still no dedicated graphics, though, and all Mac mini models ship with Intel UHD Graphics 630. That means gaming is out of the picture on the Mac mini. In our testing, Rocket League wasn’t smooth enough to enjoy playing at performance quality settings and 1080p resolution. Even worse, a more demanding game like Civilization VI was hopeless and didn’t play at enjoyable framerates.

iMac models, however, are still stuck on the 7th-gen Intel processors and a much slower 1TB SATA drive as stock options. A base $1,100 iMac comes with dual-core 2.3GHz dual‑core Intel Core i5 processor clocked at 2.3GHz. There are also options for quad‑core Intel Core i5 processors clocked at 3.0GHz, but these are only on the Retina models and will bump the pricing up to $1,300. That is far off from the same specs on the $1,100 for the Mac Mini.

Keep in mind, those Retina iMac models include dedicated graphics — Radeon Pro 555 with 2GB video memory—whereas the base model iMacs come with integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640. Either way, the older SATA drives on these iMacs are slow and might make MacOS feel sluggish, especially if you’re not wanting to spend $200 for a model with an SSD “Fusion” drive.

Starting at $800 and equipped with newer and faster eighth-generation quad-core processors, vs the dual-core seventh $1,000 iMac, the Mac Mini presents more processing power. There’s also the bonus of each iMac coming with SSDs, instead of slower SATA drives. Sure, there is still no dedicated graphics on board the Mac Mini, and a monitor will need to be purchased separately, but the jump in the processor is well worth it for heavy multitasking.

Connectivity

apple imac retina 5k display 2017 stand2
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Apple has always embraced USB-C, and the ports on board both the Mac Mini and the iMac make that no different. Onboard the Mac Mini are four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, Ethernet port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The iMac keeps a similar range of ports, including four USB 3.0 ports, Two Thunderbolt 3 USB ports, Ethernet port, and an SDXC card slot.

It is hard to choose since all these ports are modern, but the win might just have to go to the iMac for its ports. Creatives are known for using Macs, and the lack of the SDXC card slot means that many might have to turn to a dongle to transfer photos and other content. It is a slight inconvenience that might be a deciding factor for some.

Buy the Mac mini, unless you’re going big

Apple Mac Mini 2018
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

At the end of the day, the $800 Mac mini is worth more than a $1,100 iMac. For those looking for a Mac with serious multitasking and processing power, the eighth generation Intel Core i3 quad-core processor clocked at 3.6 GHz and SSDs presents more power for the punch than the dual-core chips and SATA drives on board the iMacs.

The higher-end iMacs are well worth the money, but the base models won’t be worth buying again until they’ve been updated with some faster components.

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